Man's Castle (1933) is a rarely seen Pre-Code that I just recently happened to discover on TCM. In this film, masterful director Frank Borzage created a love story in the middle of the poverty and despair of the Great Depression. Spencer Tracy plays Bill, a tough guy who makes a living doing odd jobs and traveling from city to city. Bill meets Trina, played by Loretta Young, a homeless young woman who will not resort to prostitution. Trina's predicament softens Bill's hard edge and he brings her to live with him in his one room shack by New York City's East River. Trina tries to turn their shack into a home. She soon falls in love with Bill but he is not ready to settle down. Unlike Trina who is sweet and vulnerable, Bill is tough-talking and chauvinistic. It seems foolish of Trina to stay with a man that often tells her that he is tempted to leave her. However, the viewer can grasp how Bill really feels about Trina through Tracy's facial expressions. Bill's true feelings for Trina are quite apparent in the scene in which he presents her with a stove she wanted to get. This scene is the most touching in the whole film. There is so much love and longing expressed in both Young and Tracy's faces that it is truly romantic. Just as Bill is about to leave Trina for a flashy showgirl, played by Glenda Farrell, Trina announces to him that she is pregnant with his child. Bill plans a robbery in order to leave Trina some money, but ends up getting shot. The ending of the film was quite surprising to me. Man's Castle deserves to be more widely known. It is truly a Depression era masterpiece. The expressionistic black and white photography is very effective in keeping the atmosphere grim and bleak. Nevertheless, dreamy close-ups of Loretta Young make her look so beautiful and softens the dark aspects of the film. Tracy and Young gave great performances and had wonderful chemistry together. It is not surprising, since the two were having an off screen affair at the time. I love the film not only for the great performances of Young and Tracy, but because of director Frank Borzage's romantic message of love triumphing in the face of adversity. * It is interesting to note the Pre-Code elements in the film such as a skinny dipping scene and premarital sex and subsequent pregnancy would have been omitted in as little as one year later.
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